Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby perked up some ears on Wednesday after he used the words "we could be proactive" when asked about conference expansion. Bowlsby is currently attending the four-day NCAA Convention in Grapevine, Texas.
The Star-Telegram recently reported on how Bowlsby has been preparing talking points for the upcoming January 28-29 Big 12 athletic directors meeting and one of the topics that will be discussed is expansion.
Bowlsby indicated that there isn't a pressing need to expand to 12 teams.
Until we’re persuaded that larger is better, we feel pretty good about right where we are. Part of what we’re going to do during the meetings … is talk about what the advantages are of getting bigger and what the disadvantages are. If you get bigger, do you have to get to 16? Do you get all the benefits at 14? Do you get them at 12? I just think there’s a real shortage of empirical evidence that can guide our decisions.
The Big 12 currently cannot hold an official conference championship because it is two teams short of the mandatory 12-team minimum required by the NCAA. The problem for the Big 12 is that its schools may be at a disadvantage if a team from another league that holds a conference championship has the same undefeated record as a Big 12 team—that 13th game will usually sway pollsters to send a conference champion (that was determined by a head-to-head championship) on to a BCS Championship.
Should the Big 12 expand?
Bowlsby, however, has been thinking about how to hold a conference championship without expansion.
Bowlsby even cited the possibility of adding a Big 12 championship game under the league’s configuration if NCAA rules, which allow such games only in conferences with 12 or more members, are tweaked. The topic surfaced during a meeting of commissioners after last week’s BCS National Championship Game in Miami and Bowlsby said the idea “is worthy of consideration,” particularly at a time when the NCAA seeks to streamline its rule book and will vote on measures to do so at this convention.
“In a period of deregulation, does it make sense that the association is describing the manner in which we create our champion?” Bowlsby said. “Does it make any difference if we have 10 members and we take our two highest-ranked teams at the end of the year and have them play off one more time in a repeat and the champion goes on to the post-season? It’s just another area of deregulation that we think is worthy of consideration.”
But if the NCAA won't "tweak" its current championship game requirements, the question now is would the Big 12 expand?
The pickings are slim in the Big East and so far, there hasn't been noise from any current BCS teams wanting to leave their conference. If the whole point of expansion is to add to the conference's value with quality—and not quantity—then how does the Big 12 expand to at least 12 quality teams and reinstate its conference championship?
If Bowlsby can somehow get approval to hold a 10-team conference championship, then this solve its dilemma on whether or not to expand. But until that happens, if ever, the Big 12 will have to continue to market its league with innovative ideas.
Scheduling two high-profile teams to play on Championship Saturday—this season both Texas and Oklahoma play in two separate games—is a brilliant idea. That scheduling makes sure the Big 12 isn't completely left out on a day where all college football fans (and pollsters) are glued to the conference championship action.
Even Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott, who had previously scheduled his conference championship on the Friday before Championship Saturday, has changed the Pac-12's championship game to Saturday.
The Big 12 could pull a major coup if it got approval to hold a conference championship with only 10 teams—the SEC was the first conference to hold a conference championship in 1992 and since then, the Big Ten, ACC, MAC, C-USA and Pac-12 all expanded to 12 teams to ensure they could hold a conference championship.
Right now, the Big 12 probably doesn't want to expand but feels some pressure to expand because of the absence of its conference championship game. But this is also a conference that saw nine of its teams go bowling last season—a 90 percent postseason success rate is damn impressive.
The Big 12 doesn't need to hold a conference championship to legitimize the depth and quality in the conference, yet expansion will still be discussed within the next few weeks. So could pushing for approval of a 10-team conference championship.
Instead of being the conference without a "real" champion, the Big 12 could avoid expansion, be the first BCS conference to hold a conference championship with only 10 teams and have the last laugh on every BCS conference.